Video: Rhinos Without Borders
A record number of rhinos were poached in South Africa last year, and experts fear the demand for black market rhino horns (which can fetch $65,000 per kilo) will erase the animals from that country within 5 years. Two Emmy Award-winning filmmakers and conservationists are taking drastic measures to save South Africa's rhino population - by airlifting them out of the country and into Botswana. This week on Day 6, Brent speaks with Dereck and Beverly Joubert, about Rhinos Without Borders.
What is it like for you, to come across a rhino that's had its horn hacked off?
Beverly: It's absolutely devastating. We film and watch these animals go through incredible extremes just by living in the wild. And then all of a sudden, man comes along and makes it way harder. That's the only reason we've taken this on. We have to stop the trade in rhino horn.
When a rhino looses its horn, does it die?
B: Absolutely, yes.They have to shoot the rhino and then, of course, they knock off the horn. But now they're not only taking the horn, they actually taking the mucus membrane as well, which then causes the the animal bleed to death.
What is it about Botswana that makes it safer for rhinos?
Dereck: There are a number of things. First of all, there's political will. So from the president and the minister of environment down, these are people that are very interested in rhino conservation and have been for a long time. We have a very low human population - only 2 million people in a country the size of Texas or France . So we have these huge wildlife areas. Probably two of the most important factors are that we have very low corruption rates. It's often been said that to move around a horn, you need one corrupt official. The other is that in Botswana we have a shoot to kill policy. If there's engagement with poachers, there's no holding back.
How do you decide which rhinos you're going to transport?
D: There are a couple of factors. You want healthy rhinos. You want relatively young rhinos. You want rhinos, if it's females, that are not in late stages of pregnancy because then there's a risk to moving them. And in essence you want a ratio of males to females of about one male to four females.
How much does it cost to move a rhino?
B: It costs about $45,000 US to move one rhino. The most secure way to transport them is to fly them, and obviously that's where a huge amount of the expense comes in. And then of course getting them on the ground in Botswana. If they're white rhinos, we might be able to do what they call a 'hot release,' but if they're black rhinos we will once again have to keep them in a captive situation, feed them up and then after a couple of weeks we'll be able to release them.
D: There are a lot of logistics involved and there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of people. With rhino horn being at $65,000 per kilo on the black market, there's a huge risk factor in moving 100 rhinos by road, for example. So we've got security around us, we've got all sorts of things going on. We just want to move these rhinos as quickly as possible, And they'll be released in secret locations for security.
B: And we'll have telemetry on them. We'll have chips put into their horns, so we'll be able to follow them through and protect them in their new home.
How has the South African government responded? Is it legal to take animals out of South Africa?
D: Very definitely. This is a high level negotiation and agreement between the two countries. The South African government has agreed and actually put into place many years ago a conservation strategy of moving rhinos and distributing these rhinos. And it makes a lot of sense - you don't want to keep all your wealth in any asset, whatever it is gold bars or money in any one location, and in this case its rhinos. And so for many years, the South African government has been distributing these rhinos not only because they are high values assets but also to spread the DNA to prevent against future collapse. Really and truly, without the good conservation methods of the South African government up to now, this continent wouldn't have any rhinos at all.
Will the movement of rhinos have any negative effect on the biodiversity in Botswana?
D: No, definitely not. There used to be substantially more rhinos in Botswana than there are now. Botswana has an immense wildlife system, with national parks, game reserves and even wild country. Botswana could take 10,000 rhinos or more, so there's no impact on the habitat whatsoever.
You've called this a battle for Africa, what do you mean by that?
D: If we get to a point where we don't have lions, elephants and rhinos any more, everything else starts unravelling. For example, there's an $80-billion a year eco-tourism model into Africa. Pretty much most of those people come in to see those three species primarily. If we take those three species off the roster in Africa, all of those eco-tourism dollars go away. A huge proportion of that goes to feed communities, and those communities that surround and take benefit from wildlife will be poorer, and they'll poach more. We will be stimulating a poorer Africa if we lose those three species.
B: Looking at the spiritual side, I think it's really key to man, to Africans, but as well as global man, to still have wild places around. And these iconic animals are an example of what we have that is keeping these areas alive.